I am all for bodybuilders getting strong. Franco Columbu and Arnold Schwarzenegger were as strong as they looked, and other superstars such as Sergio Oliva, Bill Pearl, and John Grimek could really move the iron.

On the other hand, I have personally witnessed three Mr. Olympia winners who could not bench press 315 pounds for more than six reps in the off-season. Likewise, Mike McDonald, a powerlifter who broke world records in the bench press in four different body-weight classes, did not possess the upper-body development that would standout at any physique competition at any level.

The concept of specificity states that the best way to train for maximal strength is not necessarily the best way to train for maximal hypertrophy. Having said that, if you use only higher-rep protocols, you are limiting your total muscle development potential because you will not be increasing the size of the fast-twitch, type IIb fibers. At the very least, going on an occasional strength cycle will interject variety into your workouts to help you avoid training slumps.

The three-month upper body workout I’m about to share with you will help you 
get your bench up, along with packing on some size to your chest, shoulders, and upper back.

Perform each of these workouts once every five days for a total of six workouts.
 So, you’ll perform six workouts from Phase
 1, then six workouts from Phase 2, and 
finish with six workouts from Phase 3. Each workout builds upon earlier workouts, so it’s important to perform them in this order.


  • A1 Seated DB Press SETS: 4 REPS: 6–8 REST: 90 seconds
  • A2 Subscapularis Pullup SETS: 4 REPS: 6–8 REST: 90 seconds
  • B1 Flat Bench Unrolling Flye SETS: 3 REPS: 8–10 REST: 75 seconds
  • B2 Elbow-Out One-arm DB Row SETS: 3 REPS: 8–10 REST: 75 seconds
  • C1 Elbow-on-knee DB External Rotation SETS: 3 REPS: 10–12 REST: 60 seconds
  • C2 Prone Trap-3 Raise SETS: 3 REPS: 10–12 REST: 60 seconds

This may seem like an odd workout to improve your bench press because there are no bench presses in it! Its primary purpose is to create structural balance. If all your muscles are not in balance, the opposing muscles (antagonists) could shut down.

That’s why a trainee who has an extreme case of structural imbalance but corrects it could increase their bench press without performing any bench presses!

One exercise I need to spotlight here is the subscapularis pullup, because I seldom see it performed correctly. In this variation of the pullup, assume the starting position of the wide-grip pullup and pull yourself to the bar until your upper pecs make contact with the chinup bar.

At that 
point, you push yourself away from the bar, lowering yourself under control. It’s challenging, but when performed properly it is unquestionably one of the most effective upper-back exercises you can add to your training toolbox.


  • A1 45-Degree Incline Bench Press with Chains | 7,7,5,5,3,3 REST: 120 seconds
  • A2 Sternum Chinup SETS: 6 REPS: 5–7 REST: 120 seconds
  • B Seated Rope Rowing to Neck SETS: 4 REPS: 6–8 REST: 90 seconds
  • C1 Low-pulley One-arm External Rotation SETS: 3 REPS: 8–10 REST: 75 seconds
  • C2 DB Powell Raise SETS: 3 REPS: 8–10 REST: 75 seconds

I really like chains for developing explosiveness. By overloading the end portion of the lift, the chains encourage you to move the bar quickly at the start.

If you look at the technique of the top bench pressers, you’ll see that they tend to be extremely explosive at the start, which helps them drive the bar through the sticking point. Whereas in Phase 1 you perform the subscapularis pullup, in Phase 2 you take it up a notch by progressing to the sternum chinup, a great exercise for not just the 
lats but also the scapulae retractors.

Popularized by Vince Gironda, this chinup variation requires you to hold your torso
 in a reclined posture throughout the entire movement.

One key technique point is
 that as you pull yourself to the bar, extend your head back as far away from the bar as possible and arch your spine; toward the end of the movement your hips and legs will be held at about a 45-degree angle to the floor.

Keep pulling until your collar bone passes the bar so your lower sternum makes contact with the bar and your head is parallel to the floor. You can use either a supinated or a pronated grip.


  • A1 Flat Bench Press with Bands* SETS: 6 REPS: 2–4 REST: 120 seconds
  • A2 Parallel-grip Chinup SETS: 6 REPS: 2–4 REST: 120 seconds
  • B1 V-Bar Dip SETS: 6 REPS: 2-4 REST: 120 seconds
  • B2 One-arm DB Row SETS: 6 REPS: 2–4 REST: 120 seconds

*Use bands only on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th workouts.

Band work provides the most intense form of training on the neural system and really forces you to concentrate on accelerating the bar off your chest. Because of its intensity, I don’t recommend using bands for two workouts in a row, as it can easily cause tendinitis.

Again, it’s essential to follow the sequence provided for this program to 
work, as the workouts build upon each other. Do it right and you’ll see both your bench press and your muscles grow bigger.


For a lateral raise machine to match the strength curve of the deltoids in this exercise, the machines must be designed so the resistance decreases as the joint is flexed. However, pulley designs vary among machines, so despite the manufacturer’s best efforts, the fact that human anatomy varies from person to person means that some lateral raise machines will feel more comfortable to some people than to others. Thus, the more types of lateral raise machines a gym has, the better.